Octavia E. Butler | Critical Review by Danille Taylor-Guthrie

This literature criticism consists of approximately 2 pages of analysis & critique of Octavia E. Butler.
This section contains 590 words
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Critical Review by Danille Taylor-Guthrie

SOURCE: "Writing Because She Must: Octavia Butler's Stories, Essays," in Chicago Tribune Books, March 31, 1996, p. 5.

Taylor-Guthrie is assistant professor of Afro-American Studies at Indiana University Northwest. In the following review, she praises the stories in Butler's Bloodchild and Other Stories as "vintage Butler."

Octavia Butler is the only woman among the four most prominent African-American science-fiction writers, a group that includes Samuel R. Delany Jr., Steven Barnes and Charles R. Saunders. Her grounding in African-American culture, concern for feminist issues and ability to imagine the future make her work unique, and were presumably factors that brought her a well-deserved MacArthur Fellowship in 1995.

Bloodchild and Other Stories should delight Butler devotees and attract new readers. The volume contains five previously published stories, each with its own afterword, and two essays, one autobiographical and the other on writing. The author's commentaries on her works are as pleasurable to read as the fiction itself.

Butler is a writer by vocation not merely profession: She writes because she must. In her nine novels Butler explores questions and issues that have spurred her intellectual curiosity, whether of a scientific, sociological or psychological nature. Her cultural orientation manifests itself not in anything that might be identified as racially specific but rather in deeper questions: What is the essence of human nature? Are there fundamental and absolute roles for the sexes? What type of communities and families are possible, and how compatible would humans and another species of life be?

She has culled the essential issues of an African-American experience and projected them into other worlds.

"Bloodchild" and "Near Kin" are two of the most provocative stories in this collection. The first describes how Terrans (Earthlings) have fled to another planet where they have been welcomed by the Tlic, a sickly and dying species. Not only have the Terrans found a new home but the Tlic have found a new host to procreate within. Butler, in her afterword, says that interpretations of this as a story about slavery are wrong; it is a love story, speculating on the compatibility and possibility of strong emotional ties between humans and another species of life.

The "alienness" of the Tlic physical form, as well as the role human males play in "carrying" the Tlic children, is a wonderful leap of imagination on the part of Butler. Why shouldn't a male be able to nurture and incubate the young if the physical requirements of gestation do not call for a womb? And why couldn't love exist between species?

"Near Kin" is not a science-fiction story. Readers will discover that Butler places a story in whatever world an issue is best probed. This story of a young woman's alienation from her mother is inspired by the Bible. "The stories got me: stories of conflict, betrayal, torture, murder, exile, and incest," Butler writes. "I read them avidly … and when I began writing. I explored these themes in my own stories."

How does one recognize the self versus inherited behavior patterns? "Near Kin" has a surprising twist within a tight narrative that propels the reader. Butler creates characters that readers care about, and she is especially adept at throwing in the unexpected.

Bloodchild and Other Stories is not only vintage Butler, it permits the reader to look behind the pen. In her autobiographical essay, "Private Obsession," for example, Butler says she had no models for her work and received little encouragement, but she persisted because she could visualize her goal. Bloodchild whets our appetites for Butler's sequel to her award-winning novel, Parable of the Sower.

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This section contains 590 words
(approx. 2 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Danille Taylor-Guthrie
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